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Cook This!

Combine the intensity of Food Network cooking show
contestants focused on a win, the perennial excitement of state fair
competition, and the pure, whole-hearted spirit of youth, and you get the
annual Cook This! 4-H culinary challenge.

Now in planning for its fifth year, this event is organized
by the Iowa 4-H Youth Development program and held at the Iowa State Fair. Last
summer, 84 contestants signed on, a 30% increase over 2012.  

The team taking first place in the Senior division (shown
above) included Leah (left) and Lauren Mosher (center) from Conrad, Iowa, and
Landra Reece from Boone, Iowa (right). In addition to other components of this
multifaceted competition, they successfully prepared three dishes within a set
time constraint.

Cayla Taylor, 4-H youth program coordinator, Iowa State
University Extension and Outreach, outlines the rest of the tasks. “In addition
to the culinary competition, youth participants competed in a communications
challenge in which they had to develop a presentation on food- and
nutrition-related topics as well as test their produce and equipment
identification, food safety, and food science knowledge. The teams of three
were evaluated on creativity, food safety, communication, and teamwork,” she

The Senior participants made French dishes, and the other
two age divisions, Junior and Intermediate, prepared Creole and Argentinean
foods, respectively.

Here are the members of those two winning teams:

Junior (grades 5 and 6)

  • Jessica Kratz
  • Anna Plathe
  • Lauren Sobaski

Intermediate (grades 7, 8, 9)

  • Lucas Henkelman
  • Leonora James
  • Hannah McCoy

Timing is everything

Entrants in grades 10, 11, and 12 comprise the Senior
division. If Leah, Lauren, and Landra don’t look like high schoolers, they’re
not. They’re 13, 14, and 14, respectively. Because of a scheduling conflict,
they couldn’t be at the fairgrounds the day their Intermediate division

“We told them they could participate, but they would have to
compete at the Senior level. They did, and they won. Their performance is a testament
to their hard work, teamwork, and their preparation,” says Taylor.

The recipes and presentation topic are announced by contest
organizers early in the summer.

“We encourage participants to practice preparing the recipes
as a team. Someone chops, someone’s in charge of the sauce pan, and so on.
Since they have to do the cooking within a certain amount of time, there is
pressure to work well together,” says Taylor.

As Leah recalls, “There was a lot of planning, practicing,
and communicating. We made sure the right hand knew what the left hand was

Landra explains that one thing they focused on was ensuring
everyone was working at all times and making equal contributions, both while
cooking and in making their presentation.

Contest rules state that at least one team member be a
member of 4-H. All three young women are 4-H’ers, and they’ve been friends
since meeting at Tri-County camp at the Iowa 4-H Center in Madrid, Iowa. They
agree that their rapport, comfort level, and ease in splitting up duties gave
them an edge in the competition.

Lauren says her mother, Brenda, is also good at splitting up
duties. “Now that we won, my mom has each of us make dinner one day a week,”
she says.

The Senior division winners each received a $500 scholarship
to attend Iowa State University and to pursue a degree in the College of
Agricultural and Life Sciences or the College of Human Sciences.

Leah and Lauren are interested in ag and food sciences.

“If it weren’t for all the experiences I’ve had through 4-H,
I wouldn’t have learned so much about what I want to study in college,” says

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